Before The Invention of the Green Wine Bottle

Goatskin bags were commonplace among ancient civilizations, constituting a prominent way of storing and transporting wine[1]. The skin had great elasticity that allowed it to expand and carry significant amounts of wine for lengthy periods of time. In ancient times, there was a great demand for wine. But since it was too expensive for ordinary people[2], they only use it as an offering in religious ceremonies.

They kept the making of wine a secret process, and only a select few could learn how it was done. The first thing they did was to take grapes and crush them between two stones.

Then they poured water into the mash, and left it there until it fermented into wine[3]. Then, they poured the liquid into goatskin bags which had been cleaned out and dried. Nowadays, there are many other types of containers available for storing wines. While these are much more convenient than goatskin bags, they also have their disadvantages. For example, they are not as durable as goatskin bags and glass bottles can break easily.

Wineskin and Bota bag:

Ancient Greece was one of the first civilizations to make wine[4], and they used wineskins to transport and store wine. The word “wine” comes from the old English word “win,” which is pronounced, “wean[5]“. Wineskin is a thin, semi-permeable membrane that is made from the leathered skin of animals (goats and sheep). They made it into various shapes, such as bags and tubs. Wineskin first appeared in antiquity as a storage container for wine.

Wineskin

Wineskin by JacobsLeather

Today, we mainly used wineskins as  decorative pieces in their homes and gardens. The skins are tanned and then cut into pieces to make the containers. They sew together the pieces with thread to form a bag that can hold wine, water, or other liquids. One of the oldest examples of this type of container is from the Sogdia (ancient Iranian civilization)[6].

The Egyptians and people from ancient Greece also used wineskins for storing liquids like wine, milk, or water. Wineskins were popular during the Middle Ages because they were an easy means to store and transport liquids in small spaces like backpacks or saddlebags on horses. The Spanish bota bag for wine, in contrast, is a wineskin or wineskin bag which is a large leather bottle with a long neck, used to carry wine[7]. Every traveler carried it on their back. The word “bota” is Spanish for “bottle”. They make the bota bag from leather and has its origins in the Middle East.

The Moors later brought it to Europe. Travelers who were walking long distances used this type of bottle because it is durable and could be reused many times over. The Spanish bota bag for wine was also used to carry water.

The invention of the green wine bottle:

Sir Kenelm Digby, a Catholic polymath, diplomat, and father of modern wine bottles, invented the first bottles made of green glass[8]. The green color helps protect the wine from sunlight. They also designed the shape of these bottles by him to prevent the cork from drying out when the bottles were stored horizontally.

They made green glass bottles from lead-based glass[9]. This type of glass is not only toxic but also fades into the sunlight. These bottles were popular for about 100 years before being replaced by the glass bottles we know today.

Glass bottles were first used because they kept the wine fresher for longer than if stored them it in wooden barrels or clay pots. But there’s another reason why glass containers became popular: it could seal them with a cork so that no air could get in, spoiling the wine. The first corks were made from wood and ivory, but, nowadays, they are made mostly from cork bark taken from trees known as Quercus suber (or cork oak).

Read:
How does the glass you drink from affect the wine you drink?


The wineskin was first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey and the Bible[10]. It is believed that the earliest form of wineskin was made from the stomachs of goats. However, these wineskins did not last long because their contents would spoil quickly due to their acidic nature.

The process of making wineskin from goatskin is quite simple, including drying, stitching, sealing, and finishing. First, I washed thoroughly the skin with soap and water. Then it is dried for some time under the sun or in the shade. Drying took around two weeks. After drying out the skin, it was cut into pieces. Then these pieces were sewn together with a leather thong, which made it watertight. After sewing the leather pieces together, it sealed them using beeswax or pitch. The last step in making a wineskin was to finish off its edges and make them smooth.

This Day in our Wine History

March 18, 1909: On this day, Ernest Gallo, American vintner, and cofounder of E & J Gallo Winery in California were born in Jackson, California. He was one child born to Giuseppe “Joseph” Gallo and Assunta Bianco “Susie” Gallo; his father immigrated from Italy as a young man. He grew up on a farm where his father made wine for family consumption and also sold some commercially. Ernest Gallo attended Modesto High School but dropped out after two years to help run the family business full-time. In 1927, he married Amelia Franzia who bore him five children: Joseph Edward, David, Julio (1910–1993), Joseph Ernest II, and Janet[11].

April 4, 1953: On this day, Randall Grahm, an American winemaker, was born in Los Angeles, California. Randall attended the University of California, Davis, where he received a B.S. in Plant Sciences. Grahm founded the Bonny Doon Vineyard in 1983. We know the winery for its unusual wines, like ‘Le Cigare Volant’ that are made using different kinds of ingredients. He has been noted by the name ‘Rhône Ranger’ (a name given to promoters of grape varieties of Rhône Valley). In addition to winemaking, Grahm also makes screw caps for expensive wine bottles[12].

December 17, 1827: On this day, Alfred L. Tubbs founded a winery located in a small city of Napa Valley called Chateau Montelena, which is one of the oldest wineries in California. The winery produces a wide range of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Riesling, and Chardonnay. It has also experimented with making sparkling wines from grapes grown on its estate vineyard at Potter Valley[13].

Want to read more about wine history? Try reading these books!

Wine: A social and cultural history of the drink that changed our lives

Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture

References

  1. Lang, Timur. “Viticulture in Kafiristan.” WINE CULTURE IN IRAN AND BEYOND: 53.
  2. Laneri, Nicola. “The Impact of Wine Production in the Social Transformation of Northern Mesopotamian Societies during the Third and Second Millennia BCE.” Die Welt des Orients 48.2 (2018): 225-236.
  3. “A Lesson in Ancient Art, Modern Business of Winemaking.” VOA, A Lesson in Ancient Art, Modern Business of Winemaking, 12 Oct. 2010, https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/people-have-produced-wine-since-ancient-times-104825814/112923.html.
  4. Greek Wine.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Apr. 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_wine#:~:text=Greece%20is%20one%20of%20the,a%20household%20or%20communal%20basis.
  5. Where Does the Word ‘Wine’ Come from?” Wine Spectator, Wine Spectator, 11 Oct. 2006, https://www.winespectator.com/articles/where-does-the-word-wine-come-from-5399#:~:text=%22Wine%22%20comes%20from%20the%20Old,%22vine%22%20in%20Latin%20too.
  6. Wineskin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wineskin.
  7. Bota Bag.” Wiktionary, https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/bota_bag.
  8. McCann, Shaun R. “What seems new is sometimes old in hematology and wine.” Bone Marrow Transplantation 56.9 (2021): 2043-2045.
  9. Toxic Substances Found in the Glass and Decoration of Alcoholic Beverage Bottles.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 28 June 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190628120428.htm.
  10. Wineskin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2022,
  11. “Ernest Gallo.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Mar. 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Gallo.
  12. [“Randall Grahm.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 May 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Grahm.
  13. “Alfred L. Tubbs.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Dec. 2020, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_L._Tubbs.

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